Fat is in

• Big tires have made an impact on Central Oregon trails this winter

By Beau Eastes / The Bulletin / @beastes

Published Feb 3, 2014 at 12:01AM

For more information on fat-bike trail development in Central Oregon, go to the Central Oregon Trail Alliance’s website, www.cotamtb.com, or check out the “Central Oregon Fatbikes” page on Facebook.

Great big tires come with great responsibility.

Fat bikes — mountain bikes with monster-truck-like tires — have exploded on Central Oregon’s outdoor recreation scene this winter. Something of a niche product for the past couple of years — Webcyclery in Bend has been selling fat bikes since 2005 — fat bikes began inching more toward the mainstream cycling community in recent years as more bike companies began building the super-sized rides.

“Once the major corporations like Specialized and Trek start making them, it validates fat bikes,” says Scotty Carlile of Hutch’s Bicycles in Bend. “You saw the same thing with wheel sizes. Twenty-nine (-inch wheels) had been around forever, 27 ½-inch wheels had been around for forever. But it’s not until a big company starts producing them that it validates them as an actual product.”

Carlile estimates that Hutch’s, which has five stores in Bend, Redmond and Klamath Falls, went from half a dozen fat bikes between its shops last year to more than 40 in stock now.

“It’s another element for me to offer,” says David Marchi, the owner of Crow’s Feet Commons bike/ski/coffee/beer shop in downtown Bend. “I’m hoping to see more people buy them not just for snow, but for adventure riding, too.”

Marchi’s business was instrumental in introducing fat bikes to the masses in Central Oregon last year when Fatback, an Alaska-based bike company that assembles its bikes in Bend, provided Crow’s Feet with an entire rental fleet of its fat bikes. With Crow’s Feet and its primo downtown location, the Fatback bikes were impossible to miss and casual cyclists were quickly introduced to fat bikes’ year-round potential.

“They’ve been around for a while,” says Marchi, who hopes to tap into fat bikes’ adventure and bikepacking appeal. “Surly’s been making (a fat bike) since 2005. But there were always limitations in that there were never parts. … It was always kind of a mishmash thing. (Fat bikes) were totally in their infancy.”

Eventually bike makers like Salsa and Specialized began building their own fat bikes, and fat-bike specialists like Fatback emerged.

“Once the technology was there and manufacturers started making parts for fat bikes, a bunch of companies and bike shops went on board,” Marchi says. “I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see them eventually down in Southern California at the beach.”

Fat bikes’ growth and popularity on the snow this winter have led the Central Oregon Trail Alliance (COTA) to form a fat-bike working group to be proactive in tackling potential trail-use conflicts. The group is currently working with the Meissner Nordic club and the U.S. Forest Service on fat-bike-specific groomed trails at Wanoga and Virginia Meissner sno-parks. While fat biking is permitted at Meissner, COTA is urging riders to use other sno-parks and trail systems to prevent trail conflicts.

“Cyclists and nordic skiers are basically the same people,” Marchi says, shrugging off comparisons between cyclist-skier conflicts and the battles of skiers and snowboarders on mountain slopes in the 1980s. “It’s a matter of compliance. Mountain bikers don’t like to see horses on trails and horse riders don’t like to see mountain bikers on trails, but somehow there’s been a code developed that makes it work for everyone.

“We just need to develop a code,” Marchi continues, “or do what Bend’s doing and build fat-bike trails.”

COTA, which according to its website meets with the Forest Service this Thursday about groomed fat-bike trails, hopes to build routes of 6 and 12 miles to start, with up to 40 miles of specific fat-bike trails developed in the future. Trails would be groomed with a snowmobile, creating “snow singletrack” approximately 4 to 5 feet wide.

“Ideally, you get a trail that zigzags and isn’t much wider than a snowmobile,” Marchi says. “It becomes an area that’s exciting for mountain bikers but maybe not super exciting for nordic skiers.”

Until those trails are built, routes in and around Wanoga and Dutchman sno-parks have proven to be popular, Carlile says, as have snow-covered forest service roads near Todd Lake or out-and-back trips to Tumalo Falls or Elk Lake.

“If anybody’s going to make this work, it’s Bend,” Marchi says about figuring out a way to expand Central Oregon’s winter trail systems for a whole new group of users. “(Fat biking) is big enough, if we establish a bunch of sweet mountain bike, snow fat-bike trails, who knows what could happen?”

—Reporter: 541-383-0305; beastes@bendbulletin.com.